Clarisse is a woman of contagious energy and insatiable determination. Alli and I met her and her two sweet girls–Fanta and Bintu–while living as resident volunteers at Joshua Station, a transitional housing program for at-risk families in Denver. She and her family moved in after a series of life crises left them with no other options.
Clarisse has persevered through many life crises. She grew up in Brazzaville, Congo, a Western African nation which has been hampered by civil war and heated ethnic conflict over the past two decades. Clarisse and her family escaped to the United States as refugees several years ago after the ongoing unrest became a serious threat to their lives.
During a recent dinner with Clarisse’s family, she somewhat sheepishly asked Alli and I a simple question: Can you explain the word sour?
It was harder to define than we imagined. It is no easy task explaining this concept to someone who did not grow up snacking on Sour Patch Kids and WarHeads. We resorted to explaining sour by enacting the facial contortions the taste almost always demands. Clarisse graciously acknowledged her understanding, though her expression revealed that it humbled her to even ask.
That simple question sunk home a much more complex realization: Living in an unfamiliar place — with radically different cultural rules and a foreign language — is a challenge I will never fully understand. To be driven from my home under the threat of death is not something I have experienced. This is not a situation unfamiliar to Jesus and his family, however:
When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt.
Matthew 2:13-15 (CEB)
I rarely think of Jesus the refugee. Candidly, it disconcerts me to think about the King of Kings living as a foreigner. New Testament scholar, Craig Keener, describes Egypt as a destination of “last resort” for Judeans. The lowliness of the stable birth simply set the stage for Jesus’ life of humility. He was born in poverty and raised a refugee. My God is the designer of culture and the creator of language. Yet remarkably, he relinquished this supreme position, likely forced to humbly ask his Egyptian neighbors the definition of sour.